Bullet Journal journaling newbie. Simple resources?
November 27, 2016 12:06 PM   Subscribe

I've wanted a good paper planner for a while, but can't find one I like. Inspired by the responses in this AskMe question, I think a bullet journal might work for me. I'm looking for YouTube channels or blog posts that outline how to start one from scratch. I'm also looking for any tips you have on maintaining one, or making it look pretty without spending hours on it. Thanks!

I really liked the Passion Planner, but the 3-year plan is way too much planning for me at this point. Bullet journaling seems like a good way to go because it's way cheaper than some others out there and it's so customizable. I don't know anyone who does this, and fancy blogs may make it look awesome, but are perfect and a little overwhelming. I've watched this, read this, this, and this (I still don't get what a "collection" is).

If it matters, I'm interested in keeping a journal/planner for keeping myself motivated throughout the year to complete projects, read more books, keep up with several creative hobbies, and be inspired with quotes that I find and like. A blank space for drawing/doodling/mind-mapping would be great.
posted by onecircleaday to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I think that one way to make it look pretty without laboring too much is to use stencils and find a layout that you can use weekly. There are a few Etsy shops that sell great (and affordable!) stencils for this purpose. That first shop I linked is my favorite, but she has a special defect sale going on right now and you can't see her whole range; here is the Instagram so you can see her wares.

I am not very artistic at all, so those elaborate layouts aren't what I'm going for at all. I keep my journal neat and use some color-coding here and there, but overall it's just a way for me to keep track of to dos that are immediately important (i.e., happening today/this week) and to log longer term goals/to dos. I sometimes keep sections of books to read, movies to check out, etc., but those are just more simple lists. I've found it's all very flexible, so if I were you I'd dive in and see what works as you go.
posted by katie at 12:25 PM on November 27, 2016

Just start with the basics as shown in the four-minute video on bulletjournal.com. If you start by looking at all the unrealistically beautiful BuJos on Instagram you'll probably wind up feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.

Start with the basics, then expand. The blog entries on the Bullet Journal website are a good place to start exploring.
posted by Lexica at 12:27 PM on November 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

Etsy has a lot of homebrew stickers that can help you make things pretty without much fuss. And JetPens has some from Japan that are pretty cool.

But I agree with Lexica that it's better to start small and simple and develop the style you want. Then you can see better what works for you, and how you want to develop. Then it will be easier to make the Pretty stuff that actually works for you.
posted by Caravantea at 12:37 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best advice I got was one website that suggested that I make is messy on purpose to start with. That way perfection would not stop me. So that is what I did. I am still coming up with new ways to make it work for me and don't mind the errors and changes.

Also, I could not wrap my head around it until I actually started writing things down. Then it all became clear to me.

I'm a planner junkie, and I just love this system. It's so simple once you get going, and you can customize it to your exact needs.
posted by Vaike at 12:45 PM on November 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

A collection as I understand it is just a running list that's on a separate page from your daily to-do lists. I've got a "things to knit sometime" list and a "projects for my apartment" list and a page to track how many times in a month I do a few things: exercise, spend money for a couple of specific reasons.

I agree you should make it janky and/or simple at first just to get yourself to use the thing. I started by setting mine up exactly the way the bulletjournal dot com video says to. Within a few days of using it, it gets easier to figure out what you need to change up.
posted by clavicle at 1:27 PM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am a huge advocate of doing your own Proof of Concept testing first, fast and cheap, and then circle back later to look at what other people are doing and refine your methodology according to your own real priorities, otherwise the project becomes "I have to learn to hand-letter before I can have a planner!"

Just start anywhere, with any notebook or stapled-together sheaf of papers or whatever. Try it one way for a week, refine and try it again, do that for 6-8 weeks. I ended up developing my own layout of categorized to-dos and a way of planning my workdays that's different from how I plan my personal stuff, and then eventually started making simple grid and line/list designs in Lucidpress for myself. I print my pages on good 28lb paper so it's sturdy and smooth, and I use an Arc/Staples (aka Tul, Martha Stewart/Avery, Levenger) disc-bound system because I have pages that move, floating for a week instead of rewriting every day, so being able to rearrange is important. My day job workflow has changed recently, so I really need to re-swizzle my layout again soon to match up better.

I did dabble in videos and then had to stop because there's such an emphasis on aesthetics over function, with a big ol' whiff of that thing where everything a woman does has to be highly performative to have value - that your journal has to be on-trend and pretty for the tasks themselves to have meaning or to be "worth" the effort. My handwriting is shit, I mostly write in black pen (good black pen that feels nice to write with, but still), I have the occasional need for a post-it but almost none for stickers, and I'd rather spend an hour on Sunday night thinking deeply about the things I need to do for the week instead of thinking about design (and not referring to the task as self-care). I think those videos are kind of seductively dangerous, and most of them serve as stealthASMR/self-soothing rather than being truly informative and instructional.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:23 PM on November 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

I've been looking at it the past few days and found Kara at Boho Berry's Bullet Journal 101 series to be helpful for figuring out how to make it work for me.
posted by bluesapphires at 3:08 PM on November 27, 2016

I love this stuff but can't help thinking "who are these people who have so much to do that they need a planner, and yet enough time to design their planner?" Making your planner beautiful is a hobby in itself, and totally fine if that's what you're into. But don't feel sub-par if you just need a planner to keep things straight.

I'm in favor of having tools that are a joy to use and that I don't have to fight with, in general, so indulge my stationery fetish with nice notebooks and pencils and a fancy planner with elegant paper. But honestly it's kind of a mess and I will not fuck with washi tape and all that jazz, because I have a lot of projects and jobs of varying priorities to keep on top of. I am not interested in "planning" as a thing in itself.

Which is the long way of agreeing with the above comment about just starting to write stuff down and figuring out a system that works for you.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 3:10 PM on November 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah -- I found that I got overwhelmed a lot at first, and now my bullet journal is much simpler, in lots of ways. I keep a separate planner for a calendar, since I'm often scheduling things months in advance because of my job, so my bujo focuses on weekly to-do lists, with some limited longer-term stuff as well. (I had a master to-do list for fall deep cleaning, and I track my job applications the same way.)

The biggest thing I wish I'd done was not so much look for things I could do with my bujo, but pay more attention to what works for me, and giving myself permission to make up my own pages. I still play around on Pinterest and Instagram a lot, but I really don't need to write down a bucket list, or whatever.

(I will say that aesthetics are really important to me; being able to design each page and pick what aesthetic I want to follow has been a really nice, soothing way to spend a half hour or whatever a week.)

I guess the best I can say is to start with one or two things that you really need, and other stuff will evolve as you settle into using the journal. It's a good tool for figuring out what you need.
posted by kalimac at 3:28 PM on November 27, 2016

This Buzzfeed article was really helpful to me when I got started. They do a nice job of laying out the basics and translating the terminology/jargon into something understandable, plus there are tons of links to other resources in the article that you can explore once you get the basics down. I'm a recovering perfectionist so I also really liked this article's realistic approach to it (e.g., showing mistakes, advice for outlining rough order on scratch paper before putting in your journal, etc.).
posted by stellaluna at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I love my BuJo and it looks nothing, nothing like BohoBerry's or the other fab instagram journals. Ignore those for now. Re-watch the original video. Don't buy etsy stickers or date stencils or anything. Buy a notebook that you like and one decent pen and get started (I use the pocket leucthteurm dot grid with a pen loop, which happens to be

A collection is just a 2 page spread (so, if you open your journal and lay it flat, the two pages that you can see) that you write a heading on and call a collection. I have a collection that's just a list of books to read, a collection of writing ideas, a collection of things I need to buy next time I'm in Ikea, a collection of short stories I've read, a collection that's just a page to doodle on. Once you fill up those two pages, you move to the next blank pages. So, my Doodle Collection is on pages 18 - 19. Pages 20 - 21 are daily pages (in that case, September 6, 7, and half of 8). I filled up my doodle collection on September 7th, and the next blank spread was pages 22 - 23. So, the Doodle Collection now includes 18-19 and 22-23. Daily pages continue with the rest of September 8, September 9, and September 10 on spread 24-25.

This is one of the real beauties of the original bullet journal system -- you fill up every page, because you're not trying to save pages for things and calculate how many pages you'll need. When I started the month of September, I didn't say "I'll need thirty pages for this, better put my doodle collection on page 31", I just wrote "September 2016", wrote my month to-do list, then wrote "September 1" and started my daily list. As I needed more collections, I added them to the next blank spread.

Every complication you add -- every set of stickers, every 10 Step Life spread or whatever the instagrammers are doing now -- will make you less likely to use the damn thing.

KISS. Start small. Buy a notebook, grab a pen, follow the original video. Add stuff when you feel like you need it.
posted by AmandaA at 7:03 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Learn from my fail: when I first started, I started with just the Bullet Journal and Buzzfeed "how to bullet journal" information you linked above. And it worked great! But then I got so excited by how well it was working that I started to try to get fancy with it...and that did not last. (SHOCKER.)

I scaled back to just the basic layouts (with the occasional useful list or fun fancy page thrown in for flavor), and that has been serving me well so long as I remember to periodically check in on my monthly to-dos and longer term projects.

So here's my two cents on starting a new bullet journal of your very own:

1. Use what you already have to start. I like the idea of testing some stuff first in a notebook or something you don't care about as much or already has some stuff in it, because then you don't feel like you're "messing up" a new notebook. (Because I'm a stationery dork, I already had a Rhodia Webnotebook and Kaweco Sport rollerball pen to start with, and they're both GREAT.)

2. Only buy one new BuJo thing at a time. It is SO easy to go overboard and buy hella stencils and pens and stickers and washi tape and these highlighters because it's fun, but then you end up with a bunch of stuff you may never use because it doesn't fit your journal style.

3. Try not to make too many "daily [______]" pages or layouts. They can get become a chore to keep up with FAST and then you end up dropping the whole journal just because you forgot to fill in your Daily Gratitude spread for a week. (ASK ME HOW I KNOW.)

4. Just write it down. Try not to worry too much about whether it's Pinterest-perfect, because putting form before function is the first step towards your BuJo becoming just another project to manage rather than something to help manage your projects. Aesthetically, I really only bother with keeping a flat ruler in the back of the book to make sure my lines are straight. Any stickers or colorful pen additions are all afterthoughts.

5. Have fun with it! I drew a spread for "books I've read" that looks like a bookshelf, and that one is fun to fill in. Just do what feels right for you, and if it doesn't work, just don't draw that spread again. :)

I recently joined a Facebook group called Minimalist Bullet Journals that may have some good advice for you on how to start out without getting deep into the art journal extra fancy stuff.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:55 AM on November 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

> I recently joined a Facebook group called Minimalist Bullet Journals that may have some good advice for you on how to start out without getting deep into the art journal extra fancy stuff.

Seconding that. They're a good voice of sanity. Don't confuse Bullet Journaling and planner decorating -- they're two separate hobbies.

I've noticed is that a lot of bujoers have problems with anxiety and perfectionism, or at least the ones posting to YouTube and Pinterest do. Try not to get sucked into the idea that things should be just so. My bujo is just scrawled lists in a notebook, and it works for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:54 PM on November 29, 2016

A lot of the people putting up the glamor shots of their journals on blogs are getting paid for referrals for washi tape and stencils and highlighters, so take their recommendations with a grain of salt.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:55 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

You guys are awesome, thank you so much. Those are very helpful suggestions, and I love the suggestion for the Minimalist facebook group. I'm not on FB but I'm sure there are others out there (reddit, maybe?)

I best answered all responses because they are all truly helpful. Thanks again!
posted by onecircleaday at 11:58 AM on November 30, 2016

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